A 27-year-old lawyer in Tripoli who identified himself only by his first name, Muataz, said late Tuesday in a conversation over the Internet that his neighborhood on the outskirts of Tripoli was quiet, but that security forces had established checkpoints and were screening anyone who went out.
"We knew from the beginning that Tripoli would be very tough to take because it's the town of Kadafi," he said. "If you go out, you will be asked 'Who are you?' and 'Where are you going?'"
Muataz said that on Sunday he had joined about 200 other lawyers in a protest outside the main courthouse in Tripoli, which was dispersed. Security forces shut down the courthouse and nearby streets. A friend described to him on Tuesday seeing protesters shot the previous day by security forces in the capital's Fashloom district.
Reports of security forces using helicopters, warplanes and foreign mercenaries had frightened people in other parts of the capital, he said. Schools and offices were closed Tuesday, he said, but food and water were still available and prices had not gone up.
Outside Libya, some of the nation's top diplomats rushed to distance themselves from Kadafi. Tripoli's ambassadors to the U.S., China, India, Malaysia and Bangladesh have resigned, and the deputy ambassador to the U.N. denounced the attacks as genocide.
"We have never seen a government bomb its own people like this," Ali Essawi, who quit as envoy to India, told Al Jazeera.
It was impossible to confirm many details of the turmoil inside Libya. The regime has cut most Internet access, telephone lines, cellphone service and other communication to the outside world.
The regime released its first official death toll from the unrest, saying 300 people, including 58 soldiers, had been killed. Nearly half were in Benghazi.
That tally was consistent with outside estimates. Human Rights Watch said at least 295 people were killed, and the International Federation for Human Rights put the toll between 300 and 400.
Whatever the final figure, the rebellion is the bloodiest so far of the uprisings that have swept across the Middle East and North Africa, toppling autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia, and challenging others in Bahrain and Yemen.
The speaker of Libya's parliament said the body would start working on a permanent constitution and set up a commission to investigate the violence. But Kadafi's speech was a vintage performance in a theatrical setting. Swathed in brown robes and turban, he spoke from the ruins of his former Tripoli residence, which was hit by U.S. airstrikes in 1986 and left unrepaired as a monument of defiance.
He played the role of a besieged warrior leading a lonely battle against foreign enemies and internal conspirators. He paused often for effect, switched his glasses, wagged his finger, gave confused history lessons, and read from the penal code.
He blamed Arab media, America, Britain, Italy, and hallucinogenic drugs for inciting the protests. He called those who oppose his rule "greasy rats" and "sick people."
"These gangs are cockroaches," he shouted angrily. "They're nothing. They're not 1% of the Libyan people."
He chastised Libyans for not being more grateful for his heroism, and warned that America would occupy Libya "like Afghanistan" if he was forced out.
Libyan independent media said crowds in Benghazi and the nearby city of Baida were so infuriated by Kadafi's speech that they hurled their shoes, the ultimate insult in Arab culture, at screens where it was shown.
Although far more melodramatic, the address echoed former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's emotional appeals for public support before he finally was overthrown. Both men used vivid language to extol their patriotism, and vowed never to surrender.
But the man in Bedouin robes has done what Mubarak would not or could not do — deployed a modern army against his own people.
"As long as liberation is not achieved, fighting will continue street by street until Libya is liberated," he said.
Times staff writer Jeffrey Fleishman and special correspondent Amro Hassan in Cairo and staff writers Paul Richter in Washington and Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Los Angeles contributed to this report.